Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Theocracy Debate

My pastor and I have been having some wide-ranging philosophical conversations after study group the past few weeks. One evening, he commented that he was becoming increasingly concerned about the Theocracy movement and the threat it represents. That piqued my blogging instincts, to see who was saying what out in the blogosphere and MSM.

It's rather curious when you think about it: the media attention about the "theocracy threat" vilifies certain religious viewpoints in a manner that would be un-PC if the religion were anything other than Christianity or Judaism. John McCandlish Phillips summarized the recent "rhetorical heavy artillery" in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on May 4 (also available here). Hugh Hewitt opined:
The main thrust of [Phillips'] column is to throw a spotlight on the absurd hysteria among MSM as to evangelicals, and on what ought to be --but is not-- the embarrassing lack of knowledge about American history that undergirds that hysteria. It is a wonderful piece. Not that it will change a single mind among the MSMbots, but worth your time nonetheless.
There's lots of hot air being expended on the topic, with some writers engaged in on-going debates with each other, such as James Taranto (4th item) and Max Blumenthal; Nooilforpacifists has the box score. Frequently, the cogent arguments on side A are totally opaque to those on side B and vice versa. Part of the problem is that there are actually several related debates going on at the same time.

One debate is about whether the President and the Republican Party have been taken over by the ultra-conservative religious Right. Some of this paranoia goes back to the angst over the Terry Schiavo travesty, and the attempted intervention by Congress and the President, while others such as Andrew Sullivan are still smarting from last fall's elections and the results of various referenda.

Typical of this strain is the reporting on the conference entitled "Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right". All of the conservative commentary I saw was based off the same Washington Times article, which had a followup here.
NEW YORK -- Secular humanists and leftist activists convened here over the weekend to strategize how to counter what they contend is a growing political threat from Christian conservatives.

Understanding and answering the "religious far right" that propelled President Bush's re-election is key to preventing a "theocracy" from governing the nation, speakers argued at a weekend conference.

"The religious right now has an unprecedented influence on American politics and policy," said Ralph White, co-founder of the Open Center, a New York City institution focused on holistic learning. "It is incumbent upon all of us to understand as precisely as possible its aims, methods, beliefs, theology and psychology."
Dr. Sanity writes, "Here we are in a war on Islamic fundamentalism, and the Left seems to think that the U.S. is at risk for a Christian theocracy" (hat tip to MOM). She continues,
However comforting it is to believe that Christianity is the religion that poses a threat to freedom and democracy, the Real World will eventually intrude on such fantasies. While these clever people "bravely" confront the straw man they have set up, the real danger will slip in unnoticed and without hindrance.

When do you suppose the "secular humanists" and Leftists will organize a conference to discuss the threat that Islam poses to their political freedoms? Don't hold your breath.

I would suggest that if "smiting theocracy" is the goal, then they need to grow up and deal with the anxiety, helplessness, anger, and rage they are feeling; then focus on the real danger we face as a country.
Captains Quarters and Powerline commentaries both derided the motives of the panelists and organizers. I shared the CQ post with my pastor, and he then shared an email he had received which provided a different perspective. It was forwarded to him as the anonymous reflections of a pastoral counselling colleague of a staff member at another Methodist church:
...I think that whether you are a conservative republican, an evangelical, a moderate, a liveral or a democrate of any kind the material discussed in this conference should scare you to death. Many conservative republicans have been very concerned that our present government is not "conservative" and does not represent conservative values of smaller government, no deficits and moving many areas of government to the states. The conference characterized what is replacing these conservative values and has come into control of the Republican Party.

To summarize the carefully documented conclusions of the excellent speakers at the conference: There are two streams of far right that have converged through an "elective affinity" in President George W. Bush, who was describe (sic) by one presenter as an extrememly intelligent leader of deep passion and ambition, an oral intuitive style and dyslexia which causes him to appear foolish and unlearned. One of these streams is Dominion Theology or Christian Reconstructionism. Leaders like Tim LeHay (sic), Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, the late Rausea Rashddony and James Dobson. The Dominionists began in the 1970's to move to take over the government. They ultimately organized by going into individual districts of the Republican Party and slowly moving the conservative political leaders out and replacing them with Dominionist leaders thereby taking over the party from the bottom up. Their goal is to "reclaim" the United States as a Christian country under the rule of God and the values of God's law. Last year, 41 Republican senators and one Democratic senator voted 100% of the time for their policies, according to the Christian Coalition. The second stream is the Neoconservatives represented by Irving Kristol, William Kristol, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and others. They see this as the American Century and consider that it is the century of American rule. In the early 1990's they developed a plan to invade Iraq as the jump off point to securing the oil prodictuion of the Middle East in order to establish this American rule. However, they were pushed aside by Bush I and generally ignored by Clinton. They belived that only a Pearl Harbor-like event would bring the populous (sic) behind their plan. That came with 9/11. At first the President was stunned by this event but within days found his footing. He turned to his fundamentalist world view and this ideological group of leaders and we have seen the road he has followed.
I'm definitely behind the times. Here I'd been thinking that the Trilateral Commission was the power behind the throne! Fortunately, MaxedOutMomma has better research skills (and wit) than I:
So I went in search of this theocracy, because frankly I'm feeling a bit peeved at being left out. Not only was I left out, but I have asked among my acquaintances and friends who are dedicated church goers, and we've all been left out. I asked Mormons, Brethren, Assembly of God'rs, Catholics (and considering the amount of money I've dropped in the plate over there, they owed me an honest answer), Baptists, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, even a Methodist - the list goes on and on. I could find no one who had been invited to be a part of this theocracy. No one. I have located a couple of extremely progressive northeastern Episcopalians who believed in the theocracy and blamed it for the declining membership of the ECUSA. But I could find not one person who had been invited to participate. Now that's security.

Not a single one of us got the memo:
Go read the whole funny piece.

Another debate is whether the Religious Right has the right to participate in the political process like any other organized interest group, since their views are just so "wrong". This is where James Tarato weighed in with his Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, "Why I'm Rooting for the Religious Right":
One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn't the same as the oft-heard complaint of "anti-Christian bigotry," which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.

For the most part, the religious right has responded in good civic-minded fashion: by organizing, becoming politically active, and supporting like-minded candidates. This has required exquisite discipline and patience, since changing court-imposed policies entails first changing the courts, a process that can take decades. Even then, "conservative" judges are not about to impose conservative policies; the best the religious right can hope for is the opportunity to make its case through ordinary democratic means.
Which brings me to the third thread: the debate about Bush's judicial nominees, the Democrat's filibustering, and the "nuclear option". Are the Republicans, as a party, really this devious or stupid? Here's a commentary I came across on those nasty Republicans who propose the "nuclear option" for changing the filibuster rules:
What they want is to establish a theocracy with their brand of Christianity running everything. Then you will have to become their brand of religion, or leave the country for fear of violent reprisals, just like how the Taliban ran things in Afghanistan. If you listen to the rhetoric of the religious folks the Republicans are following, you will hear all sorts of things about this. (from Maags Blog)
Great shades of The Handmaid's Tale! And that came out in 1985.

As you wander around the internet, you'll discover that claims about the religious far right are being applied to conservatives and Republicans as a generality, rather than as specifically describing a small, but vocal, minority. Fortunately, conservatives aren't afraid of the political tension this might create. William F. Buckley observes,
"Whether Bush owes his election to any explicit connection with evangelical Christianity is sheer speculation, as noted. But a derivative point, made by Wilfred McClay and of quite general interest, is: What has happened to the political idealism associated with the liberals? He refers to Martin Peretz of The New Republic, whose views he summarizes. “Liberals, he argues, find themselves today where conservatives were a half-century ago, without ideas, without a vision of the good society, bookless, forced to feed on stale ideas from the 60s, and therefore, dying.”

Let them die. Meanwhile, conservatives will keep our eyes on President Bush, and stop him before he campaigns for compulsory baptism." (emph. added)

Since I have more material than time to post, let me give you some other links to follow: